The New York Times

July 24, 2004

New York Police and Fire Unions to Picket G.O.P. Events


The presidents of New York City's police and firefighter unions sought to turn up the heat on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in their contract battle by threatening yesterday to picket various subsidiary events during the Republican National Convention next month.

Borrowing a tactic from Boston's police union, New York's police and firefighters warned that if the unions do not reach a contract before the convention begins, they might picket parties and receptions for Republican state delegations.

Stephen J. Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said, "We intend to make our case and to highlight the lack of respect that the mayor has for the firefighters and cops, and if we have to picket the parties that the mayor holds to do that, we will."

The police and firefighters denied that their threat to picket various Republican parties would violate a pledge by the city's Central Labor Council not to disrupt the convention, a pledge aimed at attracting the convention and its economic benefits.

Al O'Leary, a spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said, "Picketing a party at the Marriott Marquis has nothing to do with Madison Square Garden," which will house the Republican convention.

Unions leaders said they would engage in informational picketing over the next few weeks, without urging people not to cross the lines. But they said their effort might escalate into full-fledged picket lines that they ask others to honor.

The unions hope that pressuring Mr. Bloomberg before the convention will cause him to increase his wage offer. Explaining the picketing plans, Patrick J. Lynch, the P.B.A.'s president, said, "We have a Republican administration in the White House, Statehouse and City Hall, and we need the White House and Statehouse to know that the mayor is not treating us fairly."

Mr. Bloomberg, on his weekly radio program on WABC with John Gambling, ridiculed the union leaders yesterday morning. "I love it - they're yelling and screaming they're going to pressure the Republican Party to give us more money so they'll get raises," he said. "No. 1, the administration doesn't give money, it's Congress. No. 2, there isn't a chance in a zillion that Congress is going to vote monies for New York City unions. Let's get serious here."

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which begins in Boston on Monday, have been thrown off balance by the plans of Boston's police union to picket the welcoming parties being held this Sunday for 30 state delegations. With many Democrats unwilling to cross picket lines, the Michigan and Ohio delegations have canceled their welcoming parties.

Typically less sympathetic to labor, Republicans are generally more willing to cross picket lines. But labor leaders said it would be awkward for Republican delegates to cross picket lines set up by New York's firefighters and police - the workers hailed for their heroism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Mr. Bloomberg has urged the police, firefighters and teachers to accept the same amount accepted by the largest municipal union, District Council 37: a 5 percent raise over three years. But they have picketed and distributed fliers this week outside Madison Square Garden, insisting that a 5 percent raise is inadequate.

Mr. Bloomberg restated his position that if the unions want more than the 5 percent, they should agree to money-saving measures to finance larger raises.

"Let's change leadership of these unions, and put in people who care about the union members, and sit down and try to find a way to generate productivity savings so that we can pay our municipal workers more," Mr. Bloomberg said.

The police and fire unions - both without a contract for two years - held a news conference yesterday outside the Garden, announcing that they have rented two trucks to crisscross the city, carrying mobile billboards that criticize the mayor.

One billboard reads: "Billionaire Bloomberg says pay for your own raises. Police and Firefighters pay every day . . . in blood." Both billboards urge New Yorkers to call 311 to urge the mayor to give the police and firefighters "a real raise."

Mr. Bloomberg lambasted the union leaders for organizing the protests. "You've got to remember that a lot of this is not driven by what the union members want," he said on his radio program. "It's driven by the union leaders who are running for re-election all the time, and they've got to show that they're stronger than everybody else. And so they go out there and yell and scream." Saying the city could not afford the raises the police, firefighters and teachers sought, Mr. Bloomberg said, "We have enormous deficits staring us in the face."

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, who won re-election in April with 88 percent of the vote, criticized Mr. Bloomberg's remarks. "I find it puzzling that when we exercise some of the limited rights we have, such as the right to protest, the mayor becomes very nasty and vituperative," she said. "There is an easy way to cure this, and that is get to the bargaining table and to bargain in good faith, instead of sounding like a broken record to accept the same contract as D.C. 37."

Several officials with the police and firefighters noted that the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, after threatening for weeks to picket various events during the Democratic convention, received a 14.5 percent raise over four years through an arbitrator's decision on Thursday.

"We're green with envy," said Mr. O'Leary, the P.B.A. spokesman. His union wants an arbitrator to render a decision to resolve its contract dispute.

With pay levels higher in several suburbs, the union insists that the mayor's offer is far too low to resolve the problems the city faces in retaining and recruiting police officers.

Responding to the unions' threats to picket various convention activities, Jordan Barowitz, a City Hall spokesman, said: "The hard-working members of the Police and Fire Departments would be better served by union leaders who had the guts to negotiate a contract at the bargaining table instead of engaging in lame theatrics."

Paul Elliott, a spokesman for the New York City Host Committee, said: "The Republican convention is creating jobs and boosting wages for working people at what is a usually slow time in the city's economy. Labor was and remains the city's partner in planning for the Republican convention."